PLOT TWIST!

When I am teaching my students about making predictions and inferences while reading, I remind them that they have to ‘update’ their thoughts as they gain new information. One of my favorite picture books to use in teaching this concept is Suddenly by Colin McNaughton  . This book is the opposite of predictable. When the

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reader tries to guess what’s going to happen next (the pig will walk out of the school house into the wolf’s clutches), something far less predictable happens (the pig returns to his school desk for money and leaves out the back door instead.) On every page, the reader is flummoxed when the plot takes a completely unexpected twist (the wolf crashed into a wall instead  of nabbing the pig at the supermarket!).

I love thinking about this in the realm of God’s work in our lives. And the Bible has so many examples of plot twists! We think we’re the only ones who get our hearts set on something and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t work out…but then get happy again when something better occurs. Well, that emotional roller coaster has been ridden for centuries!

Genesis 15-18, Matthew 1-God shows Abram the countless stars in the night sky and promises that Abram’s descendants will outnumber them. {Wow! Amazing! Thrilling!}  PLOT TWIST: Abram is nearly 100, and Sarai his wife isn’t too far behind. {Wait, what? That’s crazy! And darn near impossible!} PLOT TWIST: God did it anyway…and Jesus was born from that infinite number of Abram’s descendants.

Daniel 1-3–Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were  wholesome, Godly young men who prayed daily and didn’t defile themselves in Babylon, the land of his captivity. They were promoted in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. {Yay! Young Jewish men take a stand and are making positive influences! Hooray!} PLOT TWIST: King Neb threatened them with death via fiery furnace if they didn’t bow and worship the idol he made. And then he did it! He put them in a flaming furnace!!! {Whaaaaaa? That’s seriously messed up! } PLOT TWIST: God sent an angel to keep them company in the furnace…aaaaaaand when they came out, ‘the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[f] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.’ (NRSV)  {Boom! Not even the smell of smoke on their clothes…and Neb had tried to extinguish their faith. } Not only that, the king made a decree guaranteeing the security of these guys.

Daniel 6-– As Daniel’s life continued, he remained honorable and trustworthy, so he continued in the service of the upcoming rulers of Babylon. In fact, he was about to be promoted into a place of great power. {So great! A Godly young man rising in the government…the world needs more of that! What an example!} PLOT TWIST: Daniel’s colleagues weren’t so fond of him, and they manipulated the king into decreeing Daniel’s daily prayers illegal. The punishment for praying to anyone except the king was being thrown to the lions. And the ignorant king went along with it.  {Whaaaaaaaaaa??? Seriously? Daniel’s the good guy…how can the king agree to such nonsense?} PLOT TWIST:  God closed the mouths of the lions…until the king’s advisors came along the next morning. The king realized the error of his ways and reinstated Daniel…and his scheming sidekicks were lion breakfast.

Acts 9–Saul was a dreaded Christian-killer. Daily, he sought worshipers of Christ to imprison and stone to death. {That’s terrible! What a ruthless, horrible man!} PLOT TWIST:  On his way to capture worshipers in Damascus, God spoke to him from heaven, questioned his motives, and blinded him for three days. {Yeah! There ya go! Get him, God!} PLOT TWIST: When Saul regained his sight, he gained a new identity…Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, that was largely responsible for the spread of the Gospel to Europe and Asia.  {Well, I did NOT see that coming! What a miracle! You sure did ‘get him’, God!}

And there are so many more! Reading through Joseph’s life is a tale of twisted truths and flat out lies until it’s relieving resolution.  The death of Lazarus was heartbreaking to his sisters, until they saw that Jesus could untwist Lazarus’s burial clothes and restore him to his life’s story. Zaccheus was a stinker of a little man, until Jesus untwisted those purse strings and heart strings and changed the plot of that tax collector’s story.  In the glowing stories of Ruth  and Esther , these brave women were writing their own versions of ‘herstory’, following the paths that they believed that God had planned for them, when their plots were severely twisted. Death, immigration, and conspiracy wound around the secure cords of their lives and snapped the comfort right off. But then, God restored the story. He gave them back their lives…in abundance.

How often we get caught up in the plot twists that are happening to us right now. We miss the bigger story that God has written for our lives. In each of the Bible stories above, the people were ‘minding their own business’, doing what was daily expected of them, when disaster struck. I’m sure that they questioned what was happening…especially Saul and Zaccheus who had yet to develop a connection to their Heavenly Father. But those other saints, they must have had their questions. ‘But Father, I was doing what I thought was right?’ ‘Abba, wasn’t I doing what you told me to do?’ ‘Forgive me, Father, if I misread your directions. I thought I understood.’

Just like us. We question ourselves. We question God. We question others. But what we need to realize is that it’s just a plot twist. It’s not curtain drop. We’re not at the end of our story until we die. The Author and Finisher of our faith is thoughtfully considering each event that occurs to us…and how it will ultimately accomplish our perfection and His glory. Others will ‘read’ our story and note our unfailing faith…or our faith struggles and restorations. God wants our tales to reach audiences beyond ourselves. That’s why our story goes on…after the plot is twisted.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
    is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

 

Lamentations 3v22-23 Vinyl Wall Decal 2

 

photo credit: wildeyedesigns.com

Scratching the spot

Mia is our fourteen-year old, beloved family dog. She has been with my husband and me since we were newlyweds. She’s grown old and gray as our kids have grown up and active. Currently, she spends most of her time sleeping on the couch, monitoring neighborhood activity out the window, or occasionally escaping to see her best bud down the street. We love our old gal.

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About a year ago, the vet told us that Mia had become paralyzed in her back legs. We had noticed that she would drag her back feet a bit when we would take her for a walk. In the snow, you could see the imprint of her front paws and a dragged streak representing her hind steps. But she could still run and play, just slower…and maybe a bit clumsier.

We noticed another way the paralysis affected her when we scratched ‘the spot’ behind her ears. For years, our family has relished in seeing Mia’s hind leg twitch when we would successfully find ‘the spot’ on her neck that activated her scratching reflex. She’d lift and twitch her back leg while we actually did the scratching work around her collar. But now, her legs don’t feel that reflex, and she certainly can’t lift either back leg or stand on the remaining one to scratch her neck. So, we find her special spot and do the work for her, since she can’t do it herself. Her head twists to the side, her eyes get that ‘Oh my gosh…that feels sooooooo good….’ glaze over them…and there’s a little bit of ‘Thank you’ in those big brown eyes, too.

 

You know, we all have our times of being the old, crippled dog…or the loving caretaker. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves limited by our circumstances, and we need someone else to help us. Unexpected family crisis can freeze our life progress…our thoughts are locked on solving that problem, and we can’t focus on anything else. Conflict at work can be so monopolizing that we bring it home with us, and it lives in our house too, paralyzing our relationships with others. Finances, seemingly the base of our existence, can falter, leaving us standing helplessly and aching for solutions. Grief, depression, illness, transition…all stifling, limiting curses to our happy little existence. So many irritating itches, and no way to satisfyingly scratch them. We desperately need help, whether we lift up our beseeching eyes to anyone or not.

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We need connection with others. We need to metaphorically, or even literally, curl up on the couch with those who love us. We need to rest our head on that able body and moan, whine, wish, weep, and even snore. There has to come a time that we seek help from those who have loved us, those who have spent time caring for us, those who will love us no matter what ails us.

That said, sometimes, we will be the caregivers to our friends as well. Are we ready for that? Are we keeping ourselves emotionally and spiritually healthy? Do we lift up ourselves and our dear ones in prayer, seeking help for things that we are powerless to change? Daily, we should seek God and his merciful grace on our lives, so we are prepared to live this life he has given us. With this empowerment, we will be ready to ‘scratch the spot’ of those beloved companions who need us most.

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Second Corinthians 2:3-7

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Second Corinthians 7

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

 

Embrace

As a teacher-mom, this thought has often occurred to me: the ones we most want to throttle are the ones who most need a hug. Students, offspring…husbands. When they are at their worst, whether intentionally or not, they just really need our love. Maybe it’s acting out or maybe it’s need of boundary reinforcement, the fact still remains, love is needed.

Hold that thought in your mind for a minute, and hop over to this next one.

I recently read about a stress study that demonstrated how living in uncertainty is actually more wearing on the body than receiving negative news. The “not-knowing” is harder than the knowing. (Study details: http://time.com/4274201/uncertainty-stress/ and https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10996 ) Consider how you feel at the eye doctor when you wait for the air puff to blast your eyeball…or how a child feels waiting for that finger prick…or your response when the boss calls you in for an unexpected meeting…or a newborn unable to articulate his desire for another meal. The waiting is beyond nerve-wracking. And now science has proven that it truly is the worst. Our bodies are physiologically primed for ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but ‘maybe’ incites panic.

The past 18 months of my life have been the most panic-inciting of all IMG_9698

of them.  So many unexpecteds and changes. So much time spent weighing possibilities and examining choices. Pros/cons. Nows/laters. What ifs/ doesn’t matters. Family, church, friends, home, finances, jobs, health….all of it. The fence-riding has given me blisters…the see-sawing has made me nauseated. As it has gone on (and on), I’ve finally begun to gravitate to one word: embrace.

Remember that thought from the first paragraph…the ones who need the hugs? My life is the child who is ‘acting out’. I can’t fix any of it easily, but I can embrace it for what it is, and stop fighting it. Instead of waking up each day with thoughts swirling in my head, I can wake up and say ‘Yep, it’s a mess, but it’s a temporary mess. I will do what I can today, and then try more tomorrow.’

 

 

Name it. Call it what it is. Stop wavering about it. Embrace it for what it is. 

Unexpected bills. Well, poop. Okay, here’s your hug. Let’s sit down and deal with you.

Pre-adolescent drama. Hello. I’ll be glad when you’re gone, but here’s your hug while you’re here.

Betrayal. You suck. I will not be like you. Here’s your hug. Good-bye.

Messy house. Ugh. You’re the prize I get for being a working mom. Accept my meager cleaning as it comes. Here’s your hug.

Aging & illness. I can’t control you, nor will you control me. I accept you in my life, but you will not get the best of me. Imma gonna hug you and teach you a lesson.

Ignorance. I hate you. I will educate myself to not be like you. You need a hug because you’re pathetic. Good-bye.

I’m not thrilled with my current place in life. But after years of bliss, I guess it was time to have things shaken up a bit so I can mature to the next stage in life. I don’t have to be miserable here, though. If I can recognize the student who needs a hug and a redirect, then I can recognize when my own concerns need hugs and boundaries. And I can hug them, and put them where they belong.

The struggle is in the fighting. If I stop fighting, then I can think clearly. And clear thinking leads to brighter vision for the future. 

Name it. Embrace it. Move forward. 

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Read James 1. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 

 

 

 

This world is crazy

In light of recent world events, have you found yourself shaking your head, gasping, and saying to people, ‘People are crazy!’ ? The world is seeming to be more dangerous,  and wretched place than ever before. The media is not helping, by using choosing words that instigate rather than educate, stir up trouble rather than tell the truth.

Whew…come quickly, Lord Jesus.

So what are we to do until he comes? How are we to live? Where is peace to be found? I want to just have coffee with Jesus and ask for advice…or call him and cry…or text him to come over so I can just sit and learn from him.

Matthew chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 tells us thatNews about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’ Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

People went to Jesus with all kinds of problems they didn’t know how to solve…and he helped them. And when they went to him en masse, he purposefully went to an large area, intentionally sat down, and taught them. He desired their curiosity and questions. He waited for his disciples, his closest followers, to come…and then, he told them how to live.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who are worn, exhausted and weary from well-doing, you are blessed! Jesus himself is addressing you! All of heaven awaits you after this world! Keep going, hold on to hope, and believe that God is with you through every moment on earth…and forever in heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Hearts ache now, but comfort is coming. Grieving is a process, and we will work through it. Light awaits on the other side of this temporary darkness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who live quietly, observing the goodness around them, praying for peace and seeking it. Hype and publicity are short-lived and shallow, but quietly recognizing the hand of God in everyday is a lifestyle.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When we are hungry, we seek out a snack. If we want to live a righteous life, and we seek it, we will find it. Godly friendships, Bible studies, church services, worship songs, quiet moments with God…these fill seekers with righteousness when they crave it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. This one is tough because it doesn’t always appear to be true in this present world.  If we show mercy and grace to those around us, God knows it. People around us may still be critical and hard to tolerate, but in the long run, God is glorified and people are brought to him when we live gracious, merciful lives.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  If we strive to be pure in heart, not manipulative or catty, sneaky or deceptive, then we will have an openness to see God at work. If we’re trying to make things happen for our purposes, we will miss the privilege of seeing God’s plan unfold. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The term ‘Christian’ can be more of a jab than a compliment these days. Said with mockery or jest, it may not be exactly the label we want. But don’t we want to be known for being peaceful, not hateful? Don’t we want to be safety and security for those who are hurting? Regardless of how the world labels us, being a child of God is a wonderful thing.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just waiting for us when we die. It is the joy of fellowship with God and believers here on earth. We will be teased, mocked, ostracized and ridiculed because we want to live a life that is different from a lot of cultural themes. But we have a circle of loving arms waiting to encourage us when we discouraged by the world.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Hold on to your faith! This world is only part of our existence. Our heavenly home and eternity with God await us after this crazy madness of life on earth is done.

So what do we do in this crazy world? We accept our poorness in spirit, and we mourn. Then we meekly seek righteousness, with a pure heart and endure persecution while we make peace. And know that God is blessing our efforts all the way.

This is only the beginning of Jesus’ words of life and wisdom to the listening crowd. Go sit at his feet and be encouraged and directed by his Sermon on the Mount. Peace be with you, as we children of God live to bring hope to the world.

 

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About EVERYTHING

“Do we pray about everything?!” he asked in whispered desperation during a church prayer one Sunday. I shushed him but smiled and contemplated his inquiry.

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After that prayer was complete, I perused the bulletin  and made a mental tally.

-Gathering, Announcements, Prayer of Centering (at the very beginning of the service)

-Sharing of Joys and Concerns (after the beginning)

-Apostle’s Creed and Prayer of Affirmation (before Scripture reading)

-Congregational Prayer (after the children’s moment)

-Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer (before offering)

-Scripture Reading and Prayer (before sermon)

-Prayer of Commission (after sermon)

-Benediction (prior to leaving)

Our service is NOT four hours long. It’s the standard one hour service. But after considering the order of worship, I realized that a third of that time is occupied in prayer. Prayers of the pastor, prayers of the people, silent prayer, meditation after prayer, prayers before action, prayers after action…

I reconsidered my son’s question–Do we pray about everything?!

Why is so much of our church service used for prayer? We pray before we start, we pray just after we start. We pray for those who are ill and absent, and we pray when the Word is shared with children who are present. We pray before we hear the Word and after we hear the Word. As we began with prayer, we end with prayer before we re-enter the world from our worship experience. Every activity we attempt, we bathe in prayer. We approach God with our intentions and ask His direction. We return to Him later to request his blessing. We plead for answers, we ask for patience while waiting, we praise Him for the outcome. We turn all our actions over to His divine plan.

Church is the holiest place we encounter all week. If we this often in THIS place, then how much more often should we pray throughout our week? Before we get out of bed, while we’re drinking the morning joe, on the way to work, before we enter work, throughout the workday and on the way home again. Before we enter challenging situations, in the midst of them, and after them.

I Thessalonians 5:17 advises that we “Pray continually”...and verse 18 goes on to say “…giving thanks to God in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Pray continually. All the time. About everything. Before, during, and after. Everything.

So, yes, son, we do pray about everything, as we well should.

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Photo credit: http://www.karipatterson.com/long-view-short-prayers/

 

Beautiful mess

Her sweet, warm, sleep-reddened cheeks were hidden behind a tangled mess of blond hair. The same twice-conditioned hair I had combed for 15 minutes last night, hoping to ward off the dreaded tangles of sleep. The morning began with that mess.

And he stumbled out his room, rubbing sleepy eyes, leaving behind a twisted pile of pee-soaked bedclothes on the floor. The same bedclothes I had just washed yesterday and replaced on his bed last night. Sigh…another mess.

The spill of coffee grounds, the puddle of milk, the jumble of who’s dropping off where and when is who picking up whom. The mess of the day continues.

As I drove to work, recalling her tangle of golden hair and my sleepy-eyed fella, I thought, It’s a beautiful mess. All of it is…living is just a series of beautiful messes.

I thought of the Israelites, heading to their promised land, coming upon the Jordan River. The mess of chaos as they traveled through the path God made in the river. The beauty of the stack of stones left behind, an alter of remembrance and praise.

The death of Lazarus, a drastic loss to his sisters. A mess of emotions and finances. But then, Jesus showed up…and Lazarus did too, leaving behind a beautiful mess of burial cloths.

The mess of a heathen giant threatening to eat the bones of the cowardly opposing forces. The beauty of his silence.

The mess of persecution heaped upon new believers by the over-zealous Saul. The beauty of his repentance.

The mess of a boat of panicked fishermen in a storm. The beauty of peaceful waves.

The mess of the ark. The beauty of the rainbow.

The mess of crucifixion. The beauty of resurrection.IMG_5339

The written account of the Bible may have ended thousands of years ago, but we continue to live the out the grace of God through our beautifully messy lives. If the Bible were being written now, my sloppy days wouldn’t make the canon to be included.

But I would love to think that my faith in the beauty through the mess would rank up there with the heroes of the faith that have gone before.

Lord in your mercy… img_6877

You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

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Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

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Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

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‘Is it gone?’

My peaceful night’s sleep last night was interrupted by a screaming six year old at my bedside. I grabbed my little daughter and pulled her into bed with me, hugging her while she sobbed. I could barely understand her terrified words. Something about it being big, really big, with long legs, in her room, on the gray chair…it was so big….so scary.

When I turned on the lamp on the nightstand, I saw fear all over her face. Huge blue eyes overflowing with even huger tears. Cheeks red with exhaustion and terror. Precious little mouth trembling as she tried to explain. The words were so frightening…recounting what had happened made it seem so real again.

She had awakened and apparently noticed movement across her room in a small chair. As she looked, she saw the long legs, the round body, the creeping threat of a spider as big as a coffee mug. She gestured to a mug on my nightstand. ‘Well, it wasn’t quite that big,’ she gasped, ‘but it was close’…and the sobbing began again. And the hugging continued.

Ten minutes later, Daddy returned from the fight. ‘Is it gone?’ her trembly, tiny voice inquired.  Brave Daddy stated that he had vanquished (captured and flushed) the foe (a grandaddy-long legs). Her bedroom was safe to sleep in. She clung to me and begged not to have to sleep in there, but I assured her that I would come too.

As I snuggled with her in her safe, cozy bed, listening to her broken sobs turn to whole, peaceful snoozing, I thought of what she had asked her daddy…‘Is it gone?’ Her ultimate concern. The fear needed to be gone. It had come upon her unexpectedly…catching her at her weakest moment…in her most peaceful place. The fear had shattered her security.

I considered the bravest of the brave in the Bible…the ones we are supposed to look to as examples of faithful living…and how they had their own nighttime battles.

Childless Abram, worried about the future of his family and nation, was reassured by the word of God saying  Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  God used the darkness to answer Abram’s question.

Young Samuel met God for the first time in the night.Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” God spoke to Samuel in the darkness, revealing the plan He had for the young boy’s life.

Jacob wrestled with his worries at night and found God in the midst of the struggle.  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Night should relax us, but instead, our minds unwind and rewind our worries. Shadows creep and crawl around us, hiding truth and exaggerating reality.

Consider this: Jesus was born at night. Angels shattered the blackness of the night sky with the bright splendor of His glory and praise. Shepherds joyously sought His birthplace in spite of the darkness. The star lit a path in the night sky for the wise men to follow for months. God controls the night…he works through the darkness.

God knows the struggles, the fears, the tears, the spiders that creep upon us, shattering our peace. We crave light and answers. He is in the dark , and He has answers. And to answer our ultimate question, ‘Is it gone?’… yes. The fear is gone.

https://img1.etsystatic.com/010/0/6700065/il_570xN.430415107_rmgt.jpg

https://www.etsy.com/listing/124387663/thou-wilt-keep-him-in-perfect-peace

 

It’s a Tangled life

In the movie “Tangled”, baby princess Rapunzel is taken from her palace home when she is an infant. An evil old woman named Gothel kidnaps her and her sun-drop magical gift.

Mother Gothel raises Rapunzel in a tower distant from all human connection. Rapunzel occupies her time with painting, playing with her chameleon Pascal, cleaning, painting some more, reading, cleaning, pottery, ventriloquy…waiting for her life to begin, as the lyrics go. She watches out the tower window and notices what happens to the world around her. Her favorite event is the annual light show that occurs in the sky from the nearby kingdom. After a few years, she realizes that the lights appear in the sky on the night of her birthday. Finally, she asks her ‘mother’ if she can go see the lights as a birthday gift.

Mother Gothel replies (in Disney song) with a list of all the terrors that are out in the world, thus hoping to burst Rapunzel’s bubble of hope about the outside world. “Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals, snakes, the plauge…” (artistically sung and choreographed, of course). And her scheme of discouragement works. Rapunzel changes her mind about wanting to leave the tower.

Enter Ryder Flynn, criminal extraordinaire. When Gothel left the tower to acquire supplies to mix more paint for Rapunzel, Ryder unexpectedly arrives, hiding from other thieves whom he has insulted. Through a series of events involving various (and humorous) whacks with Rapunzel’s frying pan, this ‘ruffian’ agrees to take her to see the castle lights, in exchange for the safe return of his satchel of loot.

Rapunzel struggles with her conscience as she begins her adventure out of the tower. “Mother would be so furious…this would kill her…this is sooooo fun…I’m a horrible daughter…I’m never going back…I’m a despicable human being…Best Day Ever!!!!’

Rapunzel’s experiences thus far remind me so much of my own life. Locked in a place that looked like home, seemed like home, had the ‘comforts’ of home for years. Told truths of safety and security. Encouraged to make the best of where I was, not to try anything risky. Warned of dangers known and unknown. Promised that ‘mother knows best’. And truthfully, isn’t that simple, uncomplicated life ideal? Isn’t safety desired?

Well, when I look at the life of Jesus, I see so much more. I see him mingling with questionable characters. I see him encouraging people to have faith in something bigger than they can earthly imagine. He says, ‘Step out and walk on the water.’ Walk around city walls and watch them fall. Hold up your arms and the sea will split, the sun will stand still. Love your enemies. Rejoice when persecuted. Pray and give and you’ll be rewarded. You’re watched and cared for more than anything else in creation, so don’t be afraid.

You see, like Rapunzel, we were stolen from our original family. We have been told the lie that earthly goals and mankind’s dreams are the best we can do. ‘Mother knows best’ comes in the form of ‘they know best’, ‘the media knows the whole story’, ‘the Joneses are the ones to keep up with’…lies, lies, lies. Our Heavenly Father knows best. He speaks truth always. He tells us that it won’t be easy; we will be persecuted, times will be hard. But he is with us and has, from the dawn of time, has greater plans for us than our sheltered tower life can provide.

I love the lyrics to the song “I See the Light”…because it describes exactly how my life changed when I realized what I could do with God in my life.

All those days watching from the windows
All those years outside looking in
All that time never even knowing
Just how blind I’ve been
Now I’m here blinking in the starlight
Now I’m here suddenly I see
Standing here it’s all so clear
I’m where I’m meant to be

And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.

It’s a Tangled life. Mixed messages, broken promises, twisted confusions… but it all gets straightened out when we acknowledge that God is greater than all the mess. He wants us to be brave enough to take that first (barefoot) step out of our comfort home to seek the adventure he has for us.

image from http://www.etsy.com

Scripture references:

Exodus 14 (Crossing the Red Sea)   Joshua 10 (Sun standing still)

Joshua 6 (Jericho’s walls fall)          Matthew 5-7 (Rejoice when persecuted)

Matthew 14 (Peter walks on water)

 

 

 

Nervous dogs shed

We adopted a dog from our local animal shelter about a month ago, and he’s great. Loveable, lazy, spoiled rotten…he’s our Dodger Dog. He’s settling in well now, playing a bit with the matron dog of the house Mia, and he’s relaxing in his worries about thunderstorms as well. (See previous post about his Stormophobia).

We were a little worried about him while we were on vacation last week, knowing he was still in his adjustment period. But  with a dog-loving neighbor kid checking on him and Mia to keep him company, we figured he’d be fine. And evIMG_5143[1]en though there were dreaded thunderstorms nearly every night we were gone, he was okay.

I noticed a strange phenomena when we returned home last night, though. His hair was all over everything. I noticed this because he had previously been virtually shed-free. Upon our arrival, I began to notice his little white hairs were on the couches (clearly, he took advantage of our absence…), in tumble weeds rolling down the hall, in piles bales in the kids’ rooms…everywhere! As I sucked up heap after heap with the vacuum, I realized that his panic during the storms and probably his anxiety from being left ‘alone’ must have come out through hair loss. I recalled a vet telling me that dogs’ dander comes out, as well as their hair, when they are nervous. Our vacation was too stressful for Dodger, and he let us know he missed us by leaving remnants of himself everywhere. Good thing we weren’t gone any longer…

IMG_5048[1]This anxiety-behavior cycle made me think about our own human responses to worry. Kids who are fretted will often wet the bed or retain bowel movements. They will display abnormal-for-them behaviors, such as hitting, feuding, or biting. They appear to be belligerent, but deep down, they’re scared. And don’t grown ups act out when they’re worried, too? Their responses are a little more cryptic, though. The snarky comment, the pity party, the passive-aggression…they’re disguises for anxiety. Anxiety that change may occur, worry that control may be lost, fear that some secret may be revealed. We adults may be taller, but we’re still so child-like inside. Scared, frightened, nervous kids wondering what’s going on around us.

So what’s your anxiety-behavior? Biting other people’s heads off? Hiding in your room? Throwing tantrums? Does it leave a bigger mess after it’s over… or a mess for someone else to clean up? Maybe it’s time to try a new response. Check out these possibilities instead…

Psalm 34

1 I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name.

For I cried to him and he answered me! He freed me from all my fears. Others too were radiant at what he did for them. Theirs was no downcast look of rejection! This poor man cried to the Lord—and the Lord heard him and saved him out of his troubles. For the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him.

Matthew 6

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32  Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Proverbs 3

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.